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Barnes: GOP Veepstakes

7:37 AM, Feb 8, 2008 • By FRED BARNES
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Now that John McCain is the presumptive - don't you hate that word! - Republican presidential nominee, the big question is who will be his vice presidential running mate. At the moment, that's unknowable, because McCain himself doesn't know whom he might pick. But here's what we do know: it won't be ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush, the son of one president and brother of another. Politicians often deny an interest in the vice presidency while actually craving a chance to run for the job. But, I'm reliably informed, not Jeb. He really doesn't want to be anyone's choice for veep.

Why not? Well, a number of reasons. After eight years in Tallahassee, he's moved back to Miami and would like to make some money. Nothing wrong with that. Another reason is that he wouldn't want to allow Democrats, just because a Bush is on the ticket, to make his brother's administration the focus of the campaign instead of their nominee's high-dollar liberalism on domestic policy and defeatism on foreign affairs. Still another reason is Bush simply doesn't want to endure months of campaigning. At least not now. He's not ruling out a presidential race later.

Too bad he's not available. Jeb perfectly meets the specifications of what McCain, or any Republican presidential nominee, needs in a running mate. He's had a splendidly successful political career. He's not only a favorite of economic conservatives, he's also highly regarded by social and foreign policy conservatives as well. And he's likeable and experienced. What more could McCain want? Maybe a policy wonk to offset his lack of depth on domestic issues? Jeb qualifies on that count, too. Oh, yes, libertarians like Jeb because he's a small government guy (unlike his brother George).

It's not that Jeb doesn't like McCain. He once told me that he especially admired McCain's insistence on cutting federal spending. Jeb didn't endorse anyone in the Florida primary last month, but the folks who helped to run his three races for governor worked for Mitt Romney. That should hardly disqualify him from the vice presidential nod - that is, if he were interested.

Absent Bush, names of countless possible veeps are flying around. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in charge of the McCain forces in the Minnesota Republican caucuses on Super Tuesday. He was blown away, however, by the Romney campaign led by former House member Vin Weber. Does McCain's defeat doom Pawlenty's chances? I doubt it. But perhaps McCain should consider Weber.

Any number of prominent social conservatives have been suggested, including Republican senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sam Brownback of Kansas. I suspect a better possibility is Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, a rising star among Republicans.

Supporters of Mike Huckabee shouldn't get their hopes up. True, McCain and Huckabee have become friendly rivals in the presidential race, but it doesn't make sense for McCain to pick someone who's as unpopular with an important segment of the conservative community as McCain himself is. Rush Limbaugh, whose opinion matters to millions of Republicans, would go ballistic.

On the other hand, supporters of Romney have grounds for hoping McCain might choose him. McCain and Romney were famously unfriendly while opponents for the Republican nomination. But Romney's speech announcing the end of his presidential bid amounted to a brilliant audition for running mate. The speech - and the timing of his departure from the race - underscored his impressive persuasive ability, his conservatism, and, most important of all, his character.

McCain spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference several hours after Romney's withdrawal speech to the same group yesterday. Then he and Romney talked by phone. For all we know, it could be the beginning of a great friendship.